Teddy Roosevelt Volunteers for France
In March and April of 1917, as it became clear the U.S. would soon enter World War I against Germany, former President Theodore Roosevelt came up with the idea of raising a division of volunteers for service in France. With his usual energy, he immediately began contacting potential supporters, getting his old “Rough Rider” buddy Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, formerly chief-of-staff of the army and a leading spokesman for “Preparedness,” to accept its command and commitments from many prominent Americans to serve.
With Wood’s assistance, Teddy approached the War Department with his idea. But Army Chief-of-Staff Hugh Scott, who like many senior officers disliked Wood, nixed the notion, noting that the Army General Staff was committed to fielding a conscript force (so committed, in fact, that they not only federalized the National Guard, but eventually actually drafted everyone in it).
So on April 10, 1917, just three days after Congress had issued a declaration of war against Germany, Roosevelt visited the White House to make his pitch directly to President Woodrow Wilson.
Roosevelt explained that the proposed volunteer division would be representative of the American people, to symbolize national unity. Since it was to be raised using the contingency T/O&E outlined in the National Defense Act of 1916, there would be nine infantry regiments. Roosevelt proposed that some of these be recruited from particular ethnic groups, including one regiment of German-Americans, to demonstrate the commitment of these immigrants and their children to the war effort, and another of African-Americans serving under white officers. Other regiments would be regionally recruited, including regiments from New England, the West, and so forth, with the Southern one to be commanded by members of the Lee and Jackson families.
Adding that many young army officers had already agreed to serve with these volunteers, which was probably correct, Teddy claimed he could get his troops to the Front in France by September 1st, which was wildly optimistic
Now Wilson hated Roosevelt, and was certainly not going to do anything that would enhance the man's military reputation, and prospects for making another presidential bid in 1920. So he rejected Roosevelt's proposals, insisting that he had to rely on the better judgment of the leaders of the Army.
Although greatly disappointed, Roosevelt threw himself into war work, while planning a comeback for 1920, only to die in early 1919 of exhaustion, the lingering effects of various tropical ailments he had acquired while in the Amazon jungles, and a broken heart over the death of his some Quentin in combat over France.
Note: The 1916 TO&E. In addition to nine infantry regiments of 3,550 troops each, organized into three brigades, the proposed division was to have a brigade of three field artillery regiments, for a total of 4,600 Red Legs, a full cavalry regiment of 1,500 sabers, an engineer regiment of 1,700, and divisional trains totaling some 3,000 more. The result was a formation that comprised no less than 40,000 men. In the event, the War Department cut the division to four regiments in two brigades, plus three battalions of machine gunners, but, after dropping the cavalry regiment entirely, left the rest of the T/O&E more or less intact, for a division of 28,000 men on paper, still much larger than contemporary European infantry divisions, which were running at about 12,000 when at full strength.
"Serve the Veal"
During a drinking bout in the 1820s, some officers of the French Royal Army began discussing gluttony. Various among them described heroic feats of piggery that they had witnessed, often to expressions of doubt on the part of their comrades. But when one of them asserted that there was a soldier in his regiment who could probably eat a whole calf at one sitting, the doubters became quite vocal. Nevertheless, the officer stood by his assertion. Naturally, someone soon offered a substantial wager, which was accepted.
It took a few days to make appropriate arrangements. The officer got the soldier to agree to take part. He then engaged the services of a local restaurant, and with the staff planned an elaborate menu. In what seems very much like an episode of Iron Chef, the officer and the restaurant staff came up with a large variety of dishes, all built around the "theme" ingredient, veal, so that the soldier’s palate would not become bored while working his way through the calf.
On the appointed day, the soldier, his officer, and the other members of the officers’ mess, convened at the restaurant. The chefs began bringing out dish after dish. And for dish after dish, the soldier dug in with great gusto. As those who had bet against him looked on in astonishment, plate after plate disappeared, and yet still the man kept going.
After about the seventh or eight dish, the soldier whispered to the officer, “Ah, ça mon capitane, I think it is time for them to serve the veal, otherwise I cannot answer for my being able to win your bet for you.”
Amazingly, the man had thought the flight of dishes which he had already consumed were merely intended to whet his appetite!
Hearing that, the officer’s comrades – having seen the better part of a calf already disappear and the man still prepared to eat more – agreed to pay up at once.